For hours I studied the steady rise and fall of her chest. Normally a fainting spell wouldn't last this long, but Carlisle explained that given the nature of the situation and the stress and anxiety she was already feeling, her unconsciousness was probably a result of multiple things, not just her dislike for blood. I carried her back through La Push and to our Fork's home as carefully as I could, paying special attention to not bouncing or jolting her in any way. She was still asleep by the time I had deposited her on the golden bedspread in my bedroom. I pulled up the other corner of the blanket and threw it over her body before I lay down next to her. I threw my arm over her waist and pulled her closer to me. For a moment, I buried my face in her hair, but then I realized that what I really wanted was to look at her. It seemed almost unreal that she was here with me. It seemed too good to be true. I laid there with Bella tucked securely in my arms for 3 hours, soaking in her beauty, allowing myself to flood with appreciation for this beautiful woman in my arms. I half expected her to sleep through the night and into the morning at this point, but she didn't. It was 4 in the morning when her eyes fluttered open. She was facing away from me, but I knew that she would register that I was there. The cold of my body, even through the blanket, would alert her of my presence. I watched as her eyes slowly opened. She blinked several times, squinting at her surroundings until they came into clearer focus. She exhaled, her body relaxing substantially as she did so. Slowly, she turned until she was laying on her back. She tilted her head until she was staring into my eyes. I searched for a sign of emotion. Any clue to the reactions she was feeling right now. For several agonizing moments, she just stared blankly. It wasn't until I saw the slight twitch in the corner of her mouth that was the beginning of her smile that my un-beating heart flooded with relief.
"Hi." She whispered.
"Hi." I half chuckled, returning her smile.
She was silent for several seconds, her smile disappearing as her brow furrowed in thought.
"Did…" She faltered, her eyes squinting in concern as her voice quieted.
"He's alive. But just barely." I answered her unspoken question.
"Well I was going to ask about the family, but… he's alive?" She frowned.
"The family is fine… and yes. Why do you seem so upset about that?" Panic began to fight against the relief in my chest.
"I'm not…" She hesitated, staring at me in almost disbelief, "I'm not upset. I just didn't think that you would…"
"Leave him alive?" I finished.
"Yeah." She whispered.
"Did you want me to kill him?" I raised an eyebrow.
"No.. no.." she shook her head. "I just didn't think you would want him alive."
"Well, before you go thinking that it was an act of nobility, let me assure you that you would be mistaken. I had a look inside of his mind, and I know that it is going to be much worse for him to have to live with what happened rather than giving him the easy way out." I explained.
"Well, after the entire pack walked out on him, he lost it a little. He attacked me, and then you, true to character, decided to try to get in the middle of a fight between a werewolf and a vampire." I chuckled.
She winced, "I guess it figures that I wouldn't even make it to you guys before I fell and hurt myself."
"The one left behind hot dog poker, and your arm found it." I smirked.
She rolled her eyes, bringing her hand up and running her fingers through her hair. "Just my luck."
"It might have been just that, Bella."
"What?" She frowned.
"If you would have made it in between Jacob and I… there would have been no telling what would have happened. Jacob was… he was ruthless. He wouldn't have bothered worrying if you were in the way. It could have been much worse than a poker into your upper arm."
She cast her eyes down, sucking her lip in between her teeth contemplatively. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…" She looked back up at me. Her eyes full of the apology her words were trying to express. "I shouldn't have tried to stop anything. You got hurt because of me. The last thing I remember is looking at the blood and then seeing Jacobs teeth inches from your neck."
"No lasting damage, Bella."
"But still… if I just would have stayed out of it…"
"Hey," I said, lifting her chin until she met my eyes again. "It all worked out."
A small smile toyed at her lips again and she turned on her side, pressing her head against my chest. I rested my cheek against her hair, ignoring the heavy scent of werewolf that was still on her.
We fell silent for about ten minutes then, reveling in each others presence without needing to alter the moment with unnecessary speech. I listened to the sounds of my family moving around downstairs.
"She's awake." Alice informed them, a smile on her face. "No- Emmett, leave them alone. They're going to need some time to talk. I swear, sometimes you are so insensitive."
"Well excuse me for not having the psychic touch." Emmett scowled.
"It has nothing to do with that Emmett, it has everything to do with the fact that I am a woman and therefore able to use my powers of deduction and observation rather than just act based on rash impulse, thank you."
"Well at least-" Emmett began to retort, but Esme cut him off.
"Drop it, Emmett. You can't beat Alice."
"Who says this was a competition?" Alice smirked, "I know better than to get into a battle of wits with someone who is unarmed."
"I will hang you from the roof by your underwear again!" Emmett threatened.
"Must it always resort to violence?" Carlisle's voice entered the conversation.
"That's just the only way Emmett can ever win." Alice rolled her eyes.
"You and Rose got a fair bit of action yesterday, Emmett. How on earth could you still have pent up aggression?" Carlisle chuckled.
"It's not aggression, I just like to pick on Alice." His response was immediately followed by a loud squeal from Alice.
"Not the hair, Emmett! You asshole!"
I chuckled into Bella's hair, causing her to turn her face up towards me. "What's so funny?"
"I was just listening to Emmett and Alice argue downstairs." I admitted.
Her face fell noticeably. Slowly, she downcast her eyes, her smile dissipating into a thin, straight line.
"What?" I frowned, suddenly concerned.
"Nothing." She mumbled, leaning her forehead into my chest.
"Bella…" I urged.
She hesitated, sighing a little before speaking.
"I forgot how much it sucks to be the lame and disadvantaged one of the family."
"I am so. In comparison to the rest of you, I'm blind, deaf, and clumsier than should be legal. I always have to be taken care of. That's how it was at La Push, too. I'm always the weak one. I hate it."
I had no words to argue with her. She was right and I knew it. It was unfair to her, and as much as I wanted to be helpless in the matter, I wasn't. There was something I could do… and I was the only one that seemed set against it.
"Is that your subtle way of telling me to change you?" I asked softly.
"It wasn't very subtle, obviously." She mumbled, her face still hidden in my chest.
"After all you have been through, Bella… and at my expense, no less, I can't understand why you would want to put yourself through something like that just to be like me."
She lifted her head and met my eyes, a powerful sense of conviction crossing her face.
"Not to be like you." She shook her head, "To be with you."
"After everything I have put you through… you still want to be with me.." I marveled, shaking my head slightly.
"Yes." She answered firmly. "More than anything in the world, that's what I want."
"And you're sure you have thought this through?" I said weakly.
To my surprise, she laughed. "Thought what through? Edward, I have nothing to lose in this anymore. All there is on the other side are things to gain. I don't have a family anymore. Renee is gone. Charlie is gone. Jacob isn't coming back, and even if he did, I would be better off with the ability to protect myself. All I have is you… and your family."
"And your soul?" I realized that the words came out as more of a question than a statement.
"A soul is meaningless without someone to devote it to. My soul means nothing without you."
"You can have both." I whispered.
"But for a limited time only. I'll grow weaker and more fragile than I am now as days pass… And eventually, I'll die. I don't want that inequality to haunt me my entire life. You couldn't even begin to understand how awful it is to be so dependant."
She had me. No matter how much I cared about her soul and her chance at an afterlife, it was clear that she had made her choice.
"Say something." She pleaded, moving her hand up to rest on my cheek. I tipped my head into her hand, reveling in the pleasant warmth.
"What do you want me to say?"
"Say yes." She whispered. "Tell me that you want me, too. As an equal."
I let my eyes flutter closed and my hand cover hers. "Of course I want you, Bella. But I also want what's best for you."
"You are what is best for me. I don't care how much you would like to think otherwise, I know what I want and I know what I need. You're it."
I opened my eyes slowly, deliberately, letting myself appreciate every inch of her pleading face before I finally met her gaze. A weight seemed to settle on my heart, dragging it down into the depths of my cold stomach as I gave one slow, solemn nod.
She relaxed slightly, her features softening and a discreet but triumphant smile tugging at the corner of her lips. "Thank you." She breathed.
The weight of what I had just agreed to hit me hard, then. Two years ago, I would have never agreed to changing Bella. But now, in light of all that had happened, I didn't have it in me to refuse her. I had made decisions for her in the past, and none of them had turned out very well. Bella had been living her life these past few years with no control over anything. Other people's decisions and actions were setting her life's course for her, without giving her any form of input at all.
"Edward." She whispered against my chest.
"I love you."
The words were so innocent, so subtle and timidly spoken that it nearly broke my heart. Any resolve I had against changing her was shattered in that moment. I felt my eyelids flutter closed as I absorbed every ounce of her words carefully. So long I had waited to hear those words under circumstances like this. Under permanent circumstances.
The word held a whole new meaning now. Permanence was now an implication of eternity. An eternity that had never appealed more to me.
I had always been so set against changing Bella that I had never allowed myself to see any benefit behind it. With the resignation to its imminent occurrence, it now held a whole new level of allure.
"I love you too." I whispered back into her hair.
Despite the enjoyable effects of reunion, the following weeks held an undertone of uncertainty. Being back in this house had reminded all of us how much we enjoyed Forks. As for Bella, it was the only home she had ever known. Based on the earlier events of the week, it was implied and accepted that we wouldn't be able to stay here for long. The treaty had been stretched to its breaking point as it was and pushing it any farther would be unquestionable idiocy.
Considering how little any of us were looking forward to moving back to Alaska, it came as a very welcomed surprise when Sam appeared as the new alpha offering an alteration to the treaty in which it was essentially negated.
He had approached quietly, not giving any signs of negative intentions.
"Edward." He nodded towards me. After he noticed me pulling Bella behind my back protectively, he added -"My visit has no harmful intent, I assure you." His thoughts confirmed his words, so I relaxed slightly. It had only taken seconds for the entire family, or what was available of it being as Alice and Jasper were hunting at the time, to assemble behind me.
"Carlisle," Sam turned his attention to my father as he appeared suddenly behind me. "My business is most importantly with you."
Carlisle nodded once, signifying his acknowledgement and allowing Sam to continue.
"As you may have guessed, I am the new alpha of the pack. Jacob hasn't been seen or heard from in two weeks, so I no longer feel obligated to speak to him regarding any pack-related decisions. He was both overthrown, and self-resigned to any position of power. That being said, I have made a decision that I feel should have been made long ago." Being able to read minds, I knew where he was going with this right from the start, but even so, I appreciated his careful use of words and the sincerity he placed behind them. "The restrictions set upon your family by the treaty are no longer binding. We have learned the difference between your family, and other vampires. And the way I see things, with your family in the area, there is less of a chance that others like Victoria will take advantage of things here. Of course, the damage has been done by Victoria. With a vampire like her posing the threats that she was, our pack expanded to include people that we never would have imagined… But, basically, your family has proven itself to be more of a help than a harm. And we all love Bella like a sister, and its nice to see her well taken care of." He hesitated, searching for the right words to conclude with. "So… we're sorry for any inconveniences, and you're welcome to stay in the area as long as you need to." He gulped when he had finished, suddenly worrying if he had made a wrong choice in coming alone.
Carlisle's lips pursed into a thin, straight line as he studied Sam for a moment, almost as if judging his sincerity. Finally, he stepped forward, extending a hand. Sam relaxed substantially as he accepted the gesture and shook Carlisle's hand firmly.
"My many thanks, Sam. You will make a fine leader. And may I add that if there is any way we can ever assist you, please, feel free to ask. Your generosity has ensured a friendship beyond what nature could have ever intended." Carlisle smiled.
Sam smiled back slightly, releasing his grip on Carlisle's hand and turning to me. He was about to speak when Bella moved around me and circled her arms around his waist. It was almost laughable how tiny Bella looked in comparison to Sam. Her head barely reached his shoulder. He didn't seem at all taken aback by her actions, though. He returned her gesture lovingly before holding his hand out towards me around her back. I accepted the handshake, trying not to grimace at the stifling heat.
"Take care of her." He nodded, images of a stronger, vampire Bella vividly invading his thoughts briefly.
"I will." I nodded, releasing his hand. Bella let go of Sam and stepped back towards me, entwining her fingers in mine, a tear threatening to run down her cheek despite the smile on her face.
"Thanks, Sam." She whispered.
He smiled and nodded again before turning to leave.
"Sam.." Bella called out, releasing my hand and taking several steps towards him to compensate for his two long strides away from her.
"Yeah, Bells?" He turned to face her again.
"Um…" She rocked on her heels uncertainly for a moment before continuing, "If you see him… can you tell him that I'm happy…"
"Yeah, Bells. No problem." He whispered.
"Thanks." She replied softy, turning back to face me. She stopped short when she caught sight of me. I tried to wipe the expression off of my face, but I couldn't seem to shake the awe that her words had stirred within me. I must have looked like an idiot, staring at her like she had just given me the greatest gift in the world.
"What?" She shook her head.
"Nothing." I whispered.
Sensing otherwise, my family immediately dispersed, leaving Bella and I alone on the front porch.
"Liar." She called, raising an eyebrow.
I hesitated, staring at her questioning position before speaking - "Did you mean it?"
"Are you happy?"
A smile took over her frown and she nodded once. "Yes. I'm happy."
I looked down at my feet trying to hide the huge and embarrassing grin threatening to overcome me. I grabbed Bella's hand and walked over to the porch swing, beckoning her to join me on it. She eyed me curiously as I patted the seat next to me before laughing and situating herself on my lap instead.
She rested her head on my chest, mindlessly winding her fingers through mine. "Are you happy?" She inquired innocently.
"More than you could imagine." I admitted.
"I think I can imagine, if it is anything similar to how happy I-"
"No, Bella. I only wish that I could make you as happy as you make me." I corrected her.
"You can." She altered.
"You know how."
I faltered for a moment. "Soon." I promised her. "We don't have to leave anymore. You can be changed here, in Forks, if that's what you want."
"I do like it here." She nodded, "But I don't want to put anyone in danger.."
"We wont let you hurt anyone, Bella. We'll look after you." I promised.
"I know that." She assured me. "I just worry."
"You have nothing to worry about anymore." I kissed her forehead, "Except of course the pain."
"The pain doesn't matter as long as I have an eternity to think about to get me through it… and you by my side." She shrugged.
"You're too brave. I think I'm more afraid than you."
"It's okay to be afraid. Fear means that you have something to lose."
I frowned a little, confused by her meaning.
"I stopped being afraid after you left." She explained. "I wasn't scared of anything anymore. Especially after Renee and Charlie… But then when you told me that you loved me again, you gave me a reason to be afraid again."
I felt my frown deepen. I understood what she meant, but it still made no sense for her to say it. Was she implying that I was the only thing she had to live for?
"Bella… I" I started, but she cut me off by pressing her warm finger to my lips.
"Marry me." She whispered. Her voice was so quiet that I wouldn't have been able to understand without my superior senses, but I did hear her. Even so, I still had to ask -
"Marry me, Edward." She repeated, hiding her blush by pressing her face into my chest.
Slowly, she turned her head up towards me.
"Yes." I repeated, nodding for emphasis.
Why did she look so surprised? Her eyes widened, glistening with tears as she stared back at me.
"Tomorrow." I shrugged. "Right now. Whenever you want. The only thing that could make me happier than marrying you would be making you even more happy than you already claim to be. It's all up to you. Whatever you want, I want too."
Tears spilled freely down her cheeks now, her pulse thundered against every inch of her skin. "I want to be less breakable first." She whispered.
"Sensible." I nodded.
"Tomorrow?" Her voice was weak, but resolute.
"Tomorrow." I agreed, taking notice of how calmly I could now discuss Bella's impending change.
"Tomorrow." She echoed breathily, a smile claiming her face for only a second before all show of emotion was lost against my marble lips.
That was all we had, now. Tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. And eternity of tomorrows that used to seem like my own personal hell were now made up of everything that was important to me.
All that mattered from this point forward was Bella. I had Bella, and we had tomorrow. It was amazing to me that one clumsy, fascinating, unpredictable teenage girl had given someone as uncaring as me something to live for.
I had Bella, and we had forever.
T H E E N D
Thank you all so much for the reviews and endless support and patience. This fiction is now complete.
I have no plans for another fiction at the moment, but I'll keep trying to think of one. I'm always open to suggestions or requests, too.